Tuesday, April 13, 2010


I know I hinted at a new way of thinking and working out, at least for me, and at least for now. After a full year of training for IM last year, I really needed to take a step back, and a look ahead, to decide what I wanted to do for this year.

At first, I had a lot of lofty ideas, as I think is typical after every monumental physical event we challenge ourselves to accomplish. Suddenly, we think we can do anything, and maybe some can. After a few months of struggling with illness, headaches, and just a general inability to get back in the groove of training for anything specific, I started looking for answers on how to turn things around.

One of the ideas that I kept finding over and over was the fact that maybe all that long endurance training wasn't exactly beneficial to my health. I wasn't sleeping good. I wasn't losing any weight, despite training 12-15 hours a week, and in fact gained some, and many sources indicated this was normal but yet not normal.

So really then, what was the answer? How could I get back to feeling and looking good again? Was there life after Ironman?

One of the sources I read was Rediscover Your Native Fitness--Pace, by Al Sears, MD. I could relate to a lot of things I read, and so far I have not found any resources about this man that indicate he is a quack. I'm not saying I agree with everything he says about fitness, but a lot of what I read made sense for me. The philosophy he teaches is that we are not made to be doing long, steady state endurance workouts, and in fact they may be detrimental to long life.

My heart wanted to say, how can that be? But my mind, and common sense, started making me really wonder. Take for example this quote:

"We in the modern West are out of condition but in a different way than most people think. To complicate matters, without an understanding of the cause of the problem, pundits have advocated the wrong solutions. We can divide the most popular modern exercise advice into
three categories:

1) “Cardio”
2) Weight training and
3) Aerobics.
All three are simply wrong and ineffective. Practice these misconceived notions long enough and they will further rob you of the native fitness you were built to enjoy."

So what did he mean by this? In his words: "Routinely forcing your body to perform the same continuous cardiovascular challenge, by repeating the same movement, at the same rate, thousands of times over, without variation, and without rest, is unnatural. This type of demand could have occurred rarely, but not in the daily environment of native societies in balance with their surroundings." And "Forced, continuous, endurance exercise induces your heart
and lungs to 'downsize' because smaller allows you to go further… more efficiently… with less rest… and less fuel."

Since what we have been trained to believe--as an example the LSD theory "long slow distance" was the best way to train ourselves to run marathons or do Ironman distance races, or even shorter, it has become a popular fitness craze. We all think we are doing something "healthy" for ourselves, when, according to many sources I have read recently, quite the opposite is true.

Take for example the recent (and not so recent) deaths of "conditioned" runners at marathons and even half marathons. Or maybe one of the more well known "advocates" of long endurance running, Jim Fixx, the popular 70s fitness guru. Fixx claimed that the secret to heart health and long life was endurance running – up until he died of a heart attack – while running.

Sears goes on to say: "Heart attacks don’t occur because of a lack of endurance. They occur when there is a sudden increase in cardiac demand that exceeds your heart’s capacity. Giving up your heart’s reserve capacity to adapt to unnatural bouts of continuous prolonged duration only increases your risk of sudden cardiac death. A ground-breaking study of long-distance runners showed that after a workout, the blood levels and oxidation of LDL (bad) cholesterol and triglycerides increased. They also found that prolonged running disrupted the balance
of blood thinners and thickeners, elevating inflammatory factors and clotting levels – both signs of heart distress."

"And it’s bad for your bones too. A study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism found that long-distance runners had reduced bone mass. This is
true for both men and women – although women had an increased risk for osteoporosis as well.
Long-duration exercisers showed signs of heart distress, increased LDL, cholesterol & triglycerides, increased oxidation of cholesterol, elevated clotting & inflammation factors,
loss of bone density and increased risk of osteoporosis."

I could go on and on, and it wasn't just this author who caught my attention. There were several others.

The dilemma here, of course, is that's what we all do and have been doing for years, either because we like doing races which then require us to train to complete these races, or we feel--and have been led to believe--it is the healthy thing to do for our hearts and longevity.

Things that have disturbed me in the past couple of years which have led me to wonder about all this endurance training and what benefits it really produce were the fact that so many people in my own personal experience who have been long distance runners for many years or multiple time Ironman finishers were starting to get debilitating or even fatal diseases.

How can this be when we all of this has practically guaranteed we would be exempt from the everyday diseases that afflict the population NOT exercising? Take for example these people that come quickly to my mind: a multiple Ironman finisher (and record holder at a couple of the IM races) dies from brain cancer; 5 men develop prostate cancer; others develop seizures and thyroid disease; and then there are all the degenerative problems many face as they have aged; and many more stories. These are just people I know!

From my own personal standpoint, I have been running for over 20 years. I have mild osteoporosis. Seems odd, since I always have taken calcium supplements, and more importantly have been running which supposedly helped with bone density. To be fair, I do have dense bones in most areas, but there are a few which show signs of degeneration. That too, to be fair, can be hereditary and age related, but it does make me wonder. What disturbed me most, however, was my inability since IM to lose ANY weight and was feeling frumpy if that's a good description. Running and biking more was not making any difference at all, and unless I "dieted" strictly--meaning no goodies, drinks, or even going out to eat, I would actually gain weight. And again, you're thinking maybe something is out of balance, or I had something medically going on that caused this. A checkup made no sense: blood pressure was up; cholesterol was up (but HDL was great), etc. Everything was bad in my estimation, bad for someone who had just gone through this enormous physical feat, bad for someone who "took care of" myself. So was this the problem?

I know, you could say the odds were in their and my favor that we all will get some sort of disease in our lifetime, but isn't that what we are hoping to avoid with all this exercise? Don't we all think we will be the lucky ones to escape these modern day afflictions?

I was confused and deflated.

Without going into a lot more detail, and if you are still following along, here is what I have been doing for the past 5 weeks, and which I said I would report on after enough time had passed for me to make some definite conclusions.

I have been following the PACE program, which is basically shorter burts of high intensity exertion followed by equal or longer segments of recovery. I started out quite simply with a 1 minute exertion followed by a 1 minute rest, doing 10 repetitions, for a total of 20 minutes. I wore my heart rate monitor to follow my progress. That was week 1 and 2. I didn't do a whole lot else those weeks either. Week 3 was on vacation and having a little more time and being rested I changed the routine to 3 minutes of exertion followed by 2 minutes of recovery, 2 exertion, 2 recovery, etc. down to 2 final sprints of 30 and 20 seconds, with recovery between. Week 4 was the same.

Week 5 I started doing some bike routines as well and some hills and track work. Week 6 I will do a mile time trial to see where I am at, and hopefully will see an faster mile time. But I am not just doing this to get faster. If that is a side effect, I'll take that too. I am trying to actually strengthen my heart and lungs and burn fat and get back into the shape I think I should be in.

After 5 weeks, I have dropped 10 pounds, have lost 3 inches on my waistline, am sleeping better, have better energy, and hopefully have gone down in body fat percentage, another bonus of shorter bursts of exertion. Its called the afterburn, which means fat burning after workouts rather than during, which hapens with steady state endurance exercise, and which, according to all sources I have been reading, causes the body to then produce more fat since it is confused into thinking that while you exercise it needs fat.

The controversy here is that if I want to continue to do long distance races, I either have to go back to the old way of endurance training or find an alternative way to accomplish this. So far, I am still searching for a new way of doing things. And I am not trying to sell anyone here on anything, just giving an opinion based on my own personal experiences and research. There still is nothing wrong with going for a run or bike ride because we enjoy it or even because we are training. But I do believe if I venture into more long distance races I will attempt to come up with some way to train that gets me not only better results for my finishing time but that leaves me in better shape than I am now. That's my bottom line.


TxTriSkatemom said...

has your intake of food changed in the past five weeks? rather, have you had to do the "extreme" clean eating or are you eating about as clean as you had during IM training?

Very interesting results. I'll be watching to see how you progress and reading up more to see what this is all about. So far sounds to be working for you, though.

Lily on the Road said...

Interesting Vickie, I'll have to read the book.

Since I changed things around a year and half ago, I've lost weight, gained energy and I sort of know what I can and can not do!

ShirleyPerly said...

Interesting. I remember when I was teaching group fitness classes several yrs ago a new program called "Wave" becoming popular. Back then, it was a big departure from the traditional fat-burning type of workouts that people were used to with high intensity interval type of training. The good thing too was that it was very time efficient (not everyone had an hour to work out out every day), but I could also see that some folks would hate it as high intensity is uncomfortable for many and "not as fun". So then it also becomes a matter of what people are willing to do, which I guess depends on why they are doing it in the first place.

Thanks for the update on what's been going on with you!